This interview was originally published in Accessories Magazine, January 5, 2016
As trade show season gears up, we're all going to be spending a lot of time in booths, whether buying or selling from them. Subtle or overt, booth display - from both aesthetic and functional standpoints - is absolutely critical. We caught up with Lloyd Stone, President of family business Manny Stone Decorators, to hear his tips, tricks, advice, and of course, some insider stories. The company launched as Manny Stone Displays in 1954 as a visual merchandiser (window trimmer) for retailer windows, then evolved into the trade show industry with father Manny, son Lloyd and brother-in-law Paul Schultz. Today, with the assistance of Executive Visual Merchandiser, Kathy Gordon and Director of Sales and Operations, Carlos Gantt, Manny Stone Decorators works with numerous trade shows, including AccessoriesTheShow, FAME, MR, National Stationery Show, NYNow, Children's Club, ABC Kids Expo, ICFF (International Contemporary Furniture), Coterie, Accessorie Circuit, WWD Magic, WWIN, Off Price Specialty Show, and more.
Accessories Magazine (AM): As busy retailers shop a show for product, is first impression more important than ever?
Lloyd Stone (LS): Retailers are so busy multitasking at show sites - they're all looking down at their phones, walking the floor, checking their show guides and looking for specific booths! You need to grab their attention. First impressions are vital to your success in all aspects of life. When you attended your high school prom (not that many years ago - right?), you went out and bought yourself a new dress or a new suit, perhaps rented a tux. You wanted to look your absolute best so you could impress your date and friends. Well, if you are exhibiting at a trade show, your goals should be the same. Only this time you're out to impress customers. It's all about your "look." The reality is: you should be asking yourself the same question you asked yourself as you were dressing for the prom: "will they like me?"
AM: Do you have a motto?
LS: Stone's Tradeshow Law is: "For every creative and practical action, there is a positive sales reaction."
AM: So much goes into a successful booth presentation. Where to start?
LS: The key elements in exhibit booth presentation, according to priority, are: Signage, Graphics, Lighting, Color, Booth Height, Wall Selection and Flooring.
AM: Graphics are probably the most striking element, no?
LS: We can print vibrant images and graphics - even wallpaper patterns - directly onto flame-resistant foam board wall panels or onto foamcore or gator board and Lucite. We can reproduce the print-ready ads used in magazines on a flat bed printer after you send over the files.
AM: What's an element that clients often overlook?
LS: Lighting cannot be stressed enough and unfortunately, many exhibitors assume convention center lighting will be adequate. LED lighting is key - it uses less electricity and saves you money as it counterbalances the blue cast of mercury vapor lamps typical of convention centers and can also be used to spotlight key items and bring them into dynamic focus.
AM: And another?
LS: Flooring! Like a dining room tablecloth, your booth's floor treatment pulls together all the elements of your exhibit's presentation. White Masonite flooring offers real advantages over standard booth carpet. The material and light color reflects light onto the booth walls and, most importantly, your displays. It also gives the opportunity to reinforce your signage by displaying, for example, your company logo on the floor (think how the NCAA and NBA have promoted teams and sponsors on their basketball court floors).
AM: An accessories display can have so much color in it. Any merchandising tips?
LS: Randomly mixing colors can create visual confusion. It's better to create color order, presenting color displays from light to dark, left to right (i.e., the same way we read).
AM: Do you find clients have their own ideas or they turn to you for YOUR expertise?
LS: Before I begin the listening process, I suggest: "You be the writer, I'll be the editor." You know your product. You know what you can get to the marketplace quicker. You have to educate me. Tell your story. And I'll tell you what to lead with. We'll make sure that together we get educated so we understand what we're trying to do. We take the client's wish list to a practical application, like reproducing their showroom at a trade show. Their showroom is their personality. Maybe we bring an element from their photo shoot to the booth.
AM: Should exhibitors build or rent their booth?
LS: I can give 10 reasons why you don't want to buy a booth. Say you built an inline 10 x 10 booth but the guy next to you canceled and now you have the opportunity to expand to the booth next door ... then what? If you rent a custom build to rent exhibit from Manny Stone Decorators, you can call my cell on site and I'll make it look like one seamless booth, and it can be like new every time. I encourage our clients to have us repaint it a different color each time ... we're painting it anyway as it's always presented like new. Fashion is always changing. When exhibitors rent a booth from us, they pick the color. We can also screen graphics directly onto fabrics.
AM: And parameters might change from show to show?
LS: The show management will determine the height. There might be a line of sight restriction, and then what happens if your booth is too high? Your options are so limited when you own a booth. With a rental, it's always flexible and "like new" as you have options to go taller or shorter. Booths are typically 8 feet high but 10- or 12-foot tall booths are impressive and stand out. Also, the placement of large signs at the 8 to 12 foot height makes it easy for customers to see your message from a distance.
AM: Should a booth change as the fashions change?
LS: The personality of the company should be consistent, even when the merchandise changes. Buyers want familiarity! This industry is about relationships -trust, integrity. If the mom and pop booths are unprofessional, the buyers get nervous. The buyers have a limited open to buy budget and need to be confident that the merchandise will be delivered as promised. A professional "look" builds that confidence level. Even if a company adds new divisions, there needs to be familiarity - a common denominator, which can be as simple as white Masonite flooring or the style/font of the lettering in their logo.
AM: So, consistency is key, show to show, season to season?
LS: We encourage people to tailor to the type of show they're doing. So we will offer discounted multiple show contracts on a rental basis. Let's say you have 5 shows a year in New York and Vegas. We'll build a booth that lives in Las Vegas and a booth that lives in New York, continually making changes that work for both venues and renting it each time. We've learned through experience that we can avoid by duplicating our inventory from coast to coast. We have various warehouses so we're not always shipping booths around the country.
AM: What "trends" are happening now in décor?
LS:The cost of exhibiting is driving the market to become minimal, which helps control expenses. Free standing clean white or birch display shelving is versatile and effective.
AM: Name a brand you helped build with a powerful booth display.
LS: S'well Bottle is a perfect example. They had a significant budget to invest with Manny Stone Decorators at their first show 5 years ago but I made sure they didn't deplete it all at one time. I promote a return on investment. For new potential client/exhibitors, like S'well Bottle, I say "l will to crawl with you, I will walk with you, I will run with you." I said let's create a double-take. Let's get the buyer to snap their head back and say "Wow. What did I almost walk by?" Create an impulse sales and multiple sale ... if you can achieve both of that in the same sale you have hit a home run. S'well Bottle is now sold at Starbucks ... and many other popular retailers.
AM: How do you avoid problems?
LS: You need to plan things out - be prepared. Know the rules. ALL exhibit materials used for wall surfaces must be flame resistant at virtually all convention centers. We offer flame resistant foam board in any color. It is a preferred alternative to flame resistant seamless paper, when used in a booth can rip when installed. It's just totally unforgiving. It can be saggy the next day. We know how to deal with problems and the clients won't even know about half of them. Say a forklift bangs into your booth and knocks it half apart or the floor was mismarked. We know how to work with these problems. We always have the Plan B. We once had a client's left wall of graphics destroyed by an electrician's accident at the National Stationery Show ... we replaced the booth within 6 hours.
AM: Any final words of advice?
LS: It's more important to take business cards than to give them away. You're in charge of the follow up. You're going to create your database. Wear something comfortable on your feet while exhibiting. No one has ever lost a sale because of what they were wearing on their feet on the concrete convention center floors. And the 11th Commandment? Don't give away something you can sell. Give them something you don't sell. Like a S'well Bottle.